This British film takes us to deepest Bedfordshire where Clophill church lies. It’s a derelict ruin that dates back to the 15th century, and in 1963 was the location of a black mass which saw tombs desecrated and animals sacrificed. Fifty years later it’s about to be the subject of a ‘documentary’.
It’s easy to dismiss this movie as found footage, and while it does conform to some of the conventional aspects of that sub-genre, 90% of this movie is actually real. The directors Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates (The Zombie Diaries) managed to film the majority of the movie having convinced the people taking part that is was an actual documentary. Villagers are spoken to as well as eye witnesses that have glimpsed a sight of something sinister, not to mention a parade of experts. This gives the movie a very intriguing feel with this pseudo-documentary intention, leaving the viewer unsure of what they’re seeing is real or manufactured.
As well as the talking heads that punctuate the film, the narrative concerns some ghost hunters that visit Clophill over successive nights with the hope of finding some evidence to back up the many tales that they’ve heard. With them they take a whole cavalcade of equipment in the form of multiple cameras, EVP readers and sound equipment – not to mention a few other props that may raise a few eyebrows such as a Ouija board.
The first hour is wholly documentary footage with seemingly little room for fiction. It’s an absorbing watch as these genuine people lend a really unnerving build up to proceedings as they’re all so believable and honest and they bring a resolute credibility to the film. When people are interviewed on camera to recollect their experiences, they do so in chilling clarity with all their stories told with honesty and passion.
There is one specific scene in the first half of the picture where we see the use of a machine to interpret the vocalisations of ghosts. Call me naïve and gullible, but I was hooked. Things begin to get more scripted as we enter the final third, and deliberately so as the ghostly sightings become more frequent and the tension heightens to fever pitch.
The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill is unlikely to thrill those ADHD viewers among us with its slow pace, zero gore and minimal shocks. Instead though, what Bartlett and Gates have done is to lure us in with historical fact and then patiently grow the atmosphere as the film progresses, which in turn makes this film a very tense viewing experience. Much of this of course will depend on your level of cynicism towards the subject matter, and indeed the whole idea behind the film could be a stumbling block to people’s enjoyment.
Either way, this falls directly into the category of ‘marmite’ movies. I’ve read a number of reviews that have been very dismissive of the concept, comparing it to Most Haunted of all things. To me that’s the equivalent of comparing Robert De Niro to Danny Dyer, but each to their own taste. Personally, I think major credit should be given to the directors for taking a gamble on mixing fact with fiction. It could have backfired spectacularly, but it didn’t and because of that ambition we have an eerie, atmospheric movie that hopefully will be the first of many Paranormal Diaries.
7 out of 10